Garbage pickup fee increasing in Oct.

Published 5:00 am Thursday, September 18, 2008

With the start of the new fiscal year on Oct. 1, the monthlygarbage pickup fee for Lincoln County residents will increase to$14.

The new rate, approved Monday by the Lincoln County Board ofSupervisors, constitutes a 55 percent increase over the previousfee of $9.08, which has not been changed since October 2001.

County Administrator David Fields said the increase wasnecessary to cover the contract rates of county garbage pickupprovider Waste Management Inc. for once a week collection. Theincrease actually went into effect last year, Fields said, but thecounty held off on a rate increase by using accumulated surplusfunds to cover the higher expenses.

Fields said the renegotiated 2006 contract with WMI – whichrolls the city, county and garbage transfer station into oneagreement – adjusts for the company’s increased expenditures on theever-increasing price of fuel. The coming collection of $14 permonth from each of the 8,929 garbage pickup clients in the countyis calculated for the county to break even on the costs.

“At $14 per month, we are charging just what it costs to operateit,” Fields said. “We’re not trying to make any money on this.Basically, for every dollar we collect, we spend it on garbagecollection.”

Buford Clark, WMI’s Market Area Manager for Community andMunicipal Relations, said the company’s monthly charge perhousehold in Lincoln County is $9.68. The extra $4.32 in thecounty’s rate increase covers extra costs – primarily the $3.20 perton processing fee at the transfer station, where garbage iscollected and trucked to a landfill.

Fields said the days of building a surplus in the county’sgarbage collection fund – which at one time stood at approximately$750,000 before being spent to avoid a fee increase in 2007 – aregone.

The new rate is calculated at $13.89, he said, and the 11 centsgenerated from each rounded up $14 payment will result in an annualsurplus collection of $11,786 – a tiny amount in the world ofcounty government expenditures.

“That’s not good at all,” Fields said. “That’s the cushion we’llhave.”

Complicating matters is the fact that even that small surplusmay be doomed. The new WMI contract contains a condition that ratesbe readjusted based on the price of fuel and the national consumerprice index, meaning the rates could be increased or decreased upona mid-year evaluation.

Furthermore, if fuel prices continue to spiral and the economyremains in a downturn, the garbage pickup rates for countyresidents may never come back down.

“My gut feeling is that we will now have to start increasingevery year,” Fields said. “Each year, the collection fee isprobably going to go up if everything else keeps going up the wayit is.”

Fields said the increase is basically the county’s only choice,as no other major trash collection companies made themselvesavailable to contract with the county. Other than WMI, Fields saidthe only other company with enough size to handle the job – BFIWaste Systems Inc. – did not submit a bid when the county wasseeking a new contract.

“We’re caught between a rock and hard place a little bit,” hesaid. “To take care of the whole city and county, you’ve got tohave a major company.”

Brookhaven City Clerk Mike Jinks said city garbage pickup rates,which have been at $18.50 per month for garbage and rubbish pickup,will not change. City residents receive twice a week pickupservice.

Also creating a relatively small drain on the county’s garbagepickup funding ability is the fact that a little more than 7percent of Lincoln County’s garbage customers are dodging theirbills. And there’s little the county can do to collect what isowed.

Whether people pay or not, state law requires that the countypick up the trash. Fields said WMI would pick up all garbage on thepickup routes, and the county pays for the service no matterwhat.

“We’re collecting 92.72 percent of our accounts,” Fields said.”The city has a water bill their garbage bill is attached to – ifyou don’t pay the water bill they cut the water off, and when yougo to get it turned back on, you have to pay the garbage bill.

“Ours is only linked to car tags,” Fields said. “We have somepeople in this county who do all they can to get around paying agarbage bill, and we have to factor that in.”

Fields said the county could turn to a collection agency topolice its accounts, but the addition of those fees would onlycompound the situation.

The only option left to county residents is whether to pay bythe month or by the year. Supervisors decided to continue allowingthe option of paying the whole year in one sum for $156 – a $12annual savings and monthly cost of $13 instead of $14.

Other fee increases discussed by supervisors Monday included theoptions of either charging $15 monthly or $14 combined with oneproperty tax mill.

The two options were designed to rebuild the once-healthygarbage fund, but supervisors decided to collect the minimumamount.

“We didn’t want to put no more on the people than we had to,”said District Five Supervisor Gary Walker. “The backup fund – wejust won’t have it. Fourteen dollars was the smallest amount on thepeople that we could get by with.”

District Four Supervisor Doug Moak said he voted for the $14flat fee because he didn’t want the county’s garbage collectionservice to be “a profit-making thing.”

“We always said this is the worst part of our job – when we haveto start working on the budget,” he said. “None of us wanted to goup on garbage, but we’re just trying to maintain what we spend. Wedidn’t want to put any more burden on the taxpayer than we hadto.”

District Two Supervisor Bobby J. Watts said his main concernwhile voting for the $14 flat fee was those who live on fixedincome.

“They can only pay so much, and you can’t charge ’em more thanthey can pay,” he said. “It was just a bad spot for bothsides.”